Julio Jones – a future Hall of Famer – appears to be on the trading block in Atlanta
The Atlanta Falcons could be parting ways with seven-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones in the near future — but not without jumping through a few hoops first.
Reports surfaced Monday that Atlanta could be trading away its star wide receiver this offseason, per Ian Rapoport. The Falcons are reportedly actively "receiving calls from several teams" and listening to offers for what seems to be largely a cap-oriented move.
"For the Falcons, they are in horrible cap shape," Rapoport said. "They can’t even sign their draft picks without doing something. This Julio Jones contract, great for him … one of the worst contracts I’ve ever seen for a team to sign."
Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot addressed the rumors Monday, giving a blunt view on the Falcons' cap struggles.
"It's not a surprise for us. We knew the circumstance we were in," he said. "Our administration has done an excellent job up to this point getting us in position to be able to manage the cap, and yet we still have more work to do.
"We have to determine what's best for the organization, and we have to handle everything with class. Obviously, that particular player, we hold him in high regard ... but we have to consider any players if it's right for the team because we have to do what's best for this organization."
If the Falcons move forward with a Jones trade, here’s how it would work.
Atlanta would need to agree to a deal in principle with the team acquiring Jones before the 2021 NFL Draft starts Thursday. Then, the deal — which would involve next year’s draft picks — would be executed after June 1 to avoid a debilitating $23 million cap hit for the Falcons.
The Falcons currently have about $2.4 million in cap space, a figure that would be impacted by a cap clearance of $15.3 million this year with a potential Jones trade.
In 2019, Jones signed a three-year deal worth $66 million, $64 million of it guaranteed. His contract is worth $15.3 million in 2021 and $11.5 million in both 2022 and '23.
If Jones stays in Atlanta, he is slated to be the eighth highest-paid wide receiver in the league next year.
On Tuesday's "Undisputed," Shannon Sharpe addressed the potential Jones trade, saying that if Atlanta does move on from its most potent weapon, it better be for a king's ransom.
"If I can't trade Julio Jones and get me a top-flight defender, I'm not moving him. ... I'm not trading him for a draft pick. What draft pick you think you can possibly get that's gonna be Julio Jones?
"Julio Jones, I think, healthy, is the best receiver in football."
Jones was drafted by the Falcons sixth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. They traded up from the 26th spot to get him, a move that cost them their 2011 second-round and fourth-round picks and their first-round and fourth-round picks in 2012.
But the move up paid off.
Jones is the Falcons’ career leader in receptions and receiving yards, and his 95.5 yards per game average is the best in NFL history.
He became the fastest receiver to record 12,000 career yards in 2019, hitting that mark in 125 games to surpass all-time great Jerry Rice (142 games). In 2020, Jones became the second-fastest to record 800 career receptions (127 games) behind Antonio Brown (126 games).
Jones is the 27th player in NFL history to reach that milestone, and he has 12,896 career yards heading into the 2021 season.
Jones also has six seasons with at least 1,300 receiving yards under his belt. Only Rice has more, with seven.
The 32-year-old Jones played only nine games in 2020 due to a persistent hamstring injury, but he still racked up 51 receptions for 771 yards. He is one season removed from a 1,394-yard, six-touchdown stretch in 2019.
It’s clear why other teams in the league would be interested in acquiring the future Hall of Famer, but where he could end up is a bit hazy. Possible landing spots for Jones include the Las Vegas Raiders, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots or Miami Dolphins.
For Green Bay, adding Jones to the roster would be a huge help to Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, a pair who connected on 76.7% of their attempts in the 2020 season, the second-highest rate among quarterback-wide receiver duos in the past 20 years (with at least 150 attempts).
The Ravens could still be searching for a clear-cut No. 1 receiver after their current go-to, Marquise Brown, struggled last season.
Adding Jones to the mix could be just what the Baltimore offense needs to move toward a pass-heavy approach, and after picking up another first-round pick last week in the Orlando Brown trade, the Ravens have some leverage to make a move.
If Jones were to head to Miami, the Dolphins would prove that they are invested in building around Tua Tagovailoa, and by trading back up to the No. 6 pick in the draft, Miami showed interest in strengthening its wide receiver corps. After signing Will Fuller to a one-year contract last season, a new long-term receiver contract could be in the near future.
As of March, the Dolphins are projected to have $33 million in cap space for 2021 — $15.2 million rolling over from 2020 — to invest in improving their offense.
The Raiders currently have just over $5 million in cap space, much less than the Dolphins, but with some restructuring of Derek Carr and Darren Waller’s contracts, acquiring Jones is a possibility. Jon Gruden and his team have big plans for this upcoming season, and it doesn’t get much bigger than Jones.
The Patriots could also be looking to provide weapons for Cam Newton, who signed a one-year contract extension worth up to $14 million earlier this year. Even with Newton’s deal, New England is projected to have a whopping $69 million in cap space for 2021.
If the Falcons do decide to trade Jones in the coming days, there's no telling where he'll land.
But for a talent such as Jones, expect him to land on his feet.
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